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Next Wave: Warping dreamscapes

Simon Sellars

Melatonin Melatonin
photo Kirsten Bradley
I'm told "sleep music" is a new genre: music to listen to while dozing off. Emboldened by this, I visited Bus Gallery with palpable excitement. I've often yearned for a club that, instead of inducing forward motion through hyper-accelerated beats, piped in music to induce catatonia. Imagine such a place: neck a few drinks, kick back with custom-made "sleep music" through state-of-the-art headphones and drift into oblivion. Minus the booze, that was exactly the set-up for the Melatonin sound installation.

Melatonin curator Lawrence English invited Australian and international sound practitioners to explore their personal experience of how dream states can be warped by sounds bleeding in from the outside world. The idea of making art out of this symbiosis thrilled me. Only recently I dreamt I was a trapeze artist, accompanied by that irritating traditional circus theme that everyone knows and hates, only to awake and find the tune blaring from the TV. Just as I was about to put my head in the mouth of a lion...

I know melatonin is a natural hormone secreted by the pineal gland that helps the body to regulate sleep, so I arrived at Bus eager for my dose, only to find 2 people occupying the beds. Apparently, they'd been in stasis for the best part of an hour and weren't stirring. I chatted to a woman also waiting. It was a miserable Melbourne afternoon, and having braved the elements we were both keen to lie down and delay our journey home for as long as possible.

Finally, the bed hogs roused and we took their place. "Sweet dreams", my new friend bid me, but I just couldn't shake the fantasy that we were long-haul astronauts submitting to hypersleep—and everyone knows there are no dreams in hypersleep. But from there on in it was all crickets and insects, Eno-like piano tinklings, disembodied voices and sweet female lullabies, fragments of conversation overlaid with clattering kitchen utensils. I remember laughter, rain, jet engines-great washes of sound peaking and troughing, punctuated by jagged violin scrapings. There were images associated with these sonic properties, but they are less easy to recall (lacking distinct visuals, it felt like I was reading minds, free falling in other people's inner space). Then the world of the gallery knitted back into place, but the transition wasn't dissonant-it was a seamless interlocking of worlds.

I checked my watch: I'd been under for 45 minutes. I was now groggy, but invigorated, like awakening from deep slumber. My acquaintance had vanished, which was a pity; I wanted to gauge her reaction, although I was honestly having difficulty remembering if she was real or part of my dreamscape.

Happily, I walked outside and there she was, staring at the drab sky. Lost for words, I stammered: "That was...uh...incredible", then followed her gaze to the clouds. But when I looked again, she was no longer there.

Melatonin-Meditations on Sound in Sleep, curator Lawrence English, Bus Gallery, Melbourne, May 23-29

RealTime issue #62 Aug-Sept 2004 pg. Onl

© Simon Sellars; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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